Should the media help mass murderers get famous?

Considering the fact that many mass shooters go on their rampages in part for the grotesque infamy, are news outlets immoral for abetting this motive by publishing/airing the killers’ names, likenesses and grisly deeds in a constant stream for months after? What legitimate service are they providing their viewers beyond morbid curiosity? Why do we need to know such details if it only serves to motivate the next psychopath?

I think the press has to be careful in how it publicizes this kind of stuff, but yes, this stuff is news by any sensible definition of news. There are guidelines on how to cover this kind of stuff responsibly and those should be followed and kept up to date, but no, things like this shouldn’t be deliberately kept quiet. I’m very uncomfortable with that idea. And particularly with all the social media out there, it’s not like the random shooting of 12 people could possibly stay secret anyway. I also think you’re overstating the “months” of coverage. This will in the news a lot for a few days and then it’ll start to quiet down.

What’s the evidence that such news motivates psychopaths?

The legitimate service provided by the news in these instances is to inform us - case closed. What we do with the information is our business. An example might be to get some sense, whether accurate or not, for why it happened: (1) events that led up to this kid shooting everyone; (2) how he acquired his weapons; (3) the tools he used to boobytrap his apartment.

Is the news immoral for reporting all the details? No. Even if the killer is motivated by the infamy, it’s the killer that is already so messed up that the infamy of a mass killing is attractive. To get that messed up and able to acquire the tools needed to murder all those people is the only important concern by the time the news is reporting it to us.

Also, can you demonstrate that any mass killer was motivated by infamy?

And while these incidents are tragic and very memorable, they’re also very, very rare. I know it looks like a lot if you list them because everybody wishes that they never happened at all, and that’s small comfort to anybody who’s lost someone in a mass shooting like this, but they are extremely rare. Is the argument that if the media refused to cover them, they would completely stop happening? That feels more than a little unrealistic.

I don’t mean trying to keep the event itself under wraps. I’m talking about the round-the-clock display of the shooters’ names, images, histories, etc. The scope of the coverage may wane in relatively short order, but we’ll be hearing the name and seeing the pictures of the Batman Shooter (he already has a nickname) fairly regularly for months at the very least. We’re now being treated to fresh reminders of the Columbine shooters for no other reason than the fact that the latest incident took place in the same state. Is it really necessary for us to know the shooter’s name or see his picture? Does that really add to our understanding in a substantial enough way it’s worth the risk of motivating another violent outcast? I realize such suppression would have to be done voluntarily by the various news outlets and that none of them will ever have the discipline to do it.

Eh. Most news is nothing more than “morbid curiosity”, and I’m not buying the OP’s thesis that news coverage is important in motivating the shooters.

Freedom of the press is much more important than anyone’s particular taste in news.

When you consider the various notes, videos, Internet postings and the like either left behind or spread in advance by some of these killers, it’s no stretch at all. The Columbine killers fancied themselves as modern desperadoes and were very clear in what they said and wrote leading up to their attack what it would mean for their reputations. I’m not suggesting this is the case for all shooters, but it certainly plays a part for many.

It’s not a freedom of the press issue. No one has yet suggested they be limited by the government. It comes down to how they choose to cover these events.

The theory that fame is a motivator for rampage killers is fairly common.

I work in television news and can tell you in every newsroom I’ve ever worked this belief is so common it’s virtually a given. The way these stories are covered is a source of ethical conflict for many.

Does noting the date and time of their executions count?

Yes, it’s almost as if people find this stuff interesting to talk about. But really, the news will fade in a couple of days. After that, you’ll hear about the court case as that slowly happens. It’s not going to get round the clock coverage for months. nothing does.

And the harm of that is what exactly?

Is it necessary for the police to keep that information a secret or the press refuse to publish it?

I asked this already: do you think these incredibly rare events would stop or happen less often if they were not publicized or if the names were kept quiet?

It’s not just a question of discipline, although you’re right that news outlets would be reluctant to refuse to publish verified informatino if all of their competitors are running with it. It’s that the press is in the business of dissemination information and they’re very cautious about refusing to tell the public things the public might want to know. For instance major media outlets have agreed they won’t publish the names of accusers in sexual abuse or rape cases because there’s evidence that it might make future victims afraid to come forward, and they generally won’t publish the names of minors accused of crimes because they may not be responsible for their actions. Without overwhelming evidence that publishing the names of the criminal in cases like this really causes more crimes, you’re not going to convince anyone to stop. And I may as well point out here that Holmes’ name would become a matter of public record once criminal charges were filed.

When you say things like “What legitimate service are they providing their viewers”, you invite such comments. Why does anyone need to provide a “legitimate service”? That is a standard to bring up only if you want to get the government involved. A service is a service, and issues of legitimacy are legal issues.

Regardless of how long it’s in the news cycle it will make a “celebrity” out of the shooter.

It reinforces the idea that the killers name will live in infamy. Supports the argument I made above.

If they want to limit the notoriety heaped on a rampage killer they should. This should be fairly self-evident.

If a quest for fame is a motivator, which is a pretty easy thing to demonstrate in most cases, it stands to reason that it would be wise to eliminate as many motivators as possible, unless a greater need is met by publicizing such details. It’s naïve, I think, to suggest there aren’t borderline cases out there watching the media blitz and thinking “that could be me.”

You’ve just given several instances where the press embargoes information in order to prevent future crime or reluctance to come forward. Again, if a quest for fame is a motivating factor (again, easy to demonstrate) then how would withholding only the identity of the shooter be substantively different? Having a defendant’s name in the public record is quite different than thousands of mentions on dozens of channels over the course of months. Since Holmes didn’t kill himself, there will be heavy coverage up through his trial until his conviction.

I’m talking about morality. What service to the viewer does the media provide when trumpeting the name of a mass murderer that outweighs the risk of motivating the next lunatic?

Mass killers have been infamous throughout history. Do you think you can stop that?

Why do they need to?

Can you show me a real reason to believe this kind of policy would be effective? I understand the fact that these psychos want to make a splash and have people pay attention to them. That doesn’t mean that’s the cause of the shootings. A lot of people want attention but less than 0.001 percent of people will shoot up a movie theater to get it. I would argue a greater need is met by publicizing those details. The public’s right to know and its interest in this case trumps the good done by denying publicity to the kind of lunatics who might kill people for the hell of it even if there is no publicity involved. How much do we have to change our society and give up our own rights to stop the actions of crazy people?

I think you’re really not grasping how rare these crimes are. My guess is that you are proposing something on the order of banning swimming in the ocean because you’re tired of hearing about people who die in shark attacks. (OK, granted: that would work.) With something this vanishingly rare, what makes you so sure you can prevent it? Aren’t you make a big assumption here, and aren’t you saying that really, you’ll be the judge of what other people need to know?

Yes, I did. And I said you need a damn good reason.

Because you’ve given us no reason to think it will prevent the crimes other than saying it’s obvious to you that it will prevent the crimes. And in those other instances, the information is not embargoed to prevent crimes because nobody thinks it will do that - it’s done to facilitate justice and reduce the harm to innocent people.

Once his name is in the public record, how are you going to prevent the thousands of mentions in the news? You’re now saying that not only should the shooting not get coverage, but the trial should be embargoed, too? Exactly how is this going to work - if you kill a couple of people it’s OK to cover it, but if you kill 12, that’s in the blackout zone? Should the press cover things like organized crime, where the body counts can be even higher?

Driving in your car is a bigger risk than that, and you’ve provided no real evidence that this coverage will motivate “the next lunatic.” With a country of 310 million people, there are a lot of crazy people out there and very few mass killers.

It’s the “trolls will go away if nobody responds to them” proposal. Solid idea that will never happen.

I was thinking of your very points this morning.

I’d be quite pleased if the press voluntarily removed the names of killers like this from their coverage. They could simply report them as “a deranged killer” or somesuch. The news reports could read as: “The murderer was arrested today at …” or “Neighbors of the accused murderer said he was a quiet person.” or “The trial for the man accused of murdering 12 people began today at…” Or The convicted murderer of 12 people in Colorado was executed today at …"

Don’t put his name anywhere in the stories.
Don’t put his picture anywhere on TV or Internet or Print news.

It does not even matter if there is a direct link between a shooter and his desire to see himself famous. I don’t care. It would be great if the media did not go ahead and make him famous. We don’t need to know his name to get the full news story. We don’t need to see his picture to get all the news we need to know. Make him anonymous. Make him a non-person.

I still don’t understand why you and the OP are qualified to judge what everybody else needs to know. And a print embargo would be pointless when anybody can get access to things like court records and put them online.

And the reason they became infamous is because their names were splashed across every television station, newspaper and dime novel seeking to reach an audience. But there are a couple of important distinctions. First, killers of the past didn’t become, literally, overnight celebrities. Plus, most of the ones we still talk about today were serial killers, because 150 years ago a single killer couldn’t walk into a theater and shoot 60 people. The price of entry for a rampage killer is shockingly small. A lunatic with a grudge and a credit card can start with nothing and murder 20 people within a couple of days. Before the easy access to weaponry we have today, most serial killers would be caught well before they racked up a body count even close to what someone can do in 10 minutes today.

But the biggest difference is that serial killers rarely sought personal notoriety. In fact, it was quite the opposite. They were motivated by something far different from fame. If you have any examples of a 19th century schoolkid spree killing 20 classmates then I’ll take it into consideration.

You’ve made this a circular argument. The reason would be to eliminate as many motivators as possible.

The main reason is the same one given for why we don’t reveal the names of certain accusers… Because it’s logical. Those who live among gorillas don’t get killed very often, either, but it’s because they give the gorillas as few reasons to kill as possible. There’s no way to know exactly how many of these acts will be prevented. And while they is rare, they’re more common, or at least way more deadly, than they have been in the past. Preventing just one would make a pretty substantial difference.

Okay, what need of yours is served? You said yourself that the killers’ names become public record as soon as they’re arrested or a death certificate is issued. If you have a vested interest you can get the information without the media coverage making the guy a celebrity.

I’m still waiting to hear why the name and likeness of the killer is so vital in the general publics understanding of the case. Every detail of the crime itself, police response, victims killed, family reactions, impending prosecution and Christian Bale’s opinion can still be widely disseminated. What perspective will broadcasting his name and image give you when you can Google it yourself if you need to?

Yes, I did. And I said you need a damn good reason.
Because you’ve given us no reason to think it will prevent the crimes other than saying it’s obvious to you that it will prevent the crimes. And in those other instances, the information is not embargoed to prevent crimes because nobody thinks it will do that - it’s done to facilitate justice and reduce the harm to innocent people.

This isn’t about a law or policy to regulate news outlets. It’s asking if news outlets are morally or ethically justified in giving notoriety to these guys in the first place, especially when there doesn’t seem to be a need or benefit beyond satisfying salacious curiosity.

Missed edit window. This text should’ve been deleted above:

Yes, I did. And I said you need a damn good reason.
Because you’ve given us no reason to think it will prevent the crimes other than saying it’s obvious to you that it will prevent the crimes. And in those other instances, the information is not embargoed to prevent crimes because nobody thinks it will do that - it’s done to facilitate justice and reduce the harm to innocent people.